architecture in Oslo

I do not know Oslo well. I was last here exactly forty years ago so it seems unfair to try to assess the architecture of the city with another stay of just five days. 

Of course I remembered clearly the wide horse-shoe shape of the harbour dominated at its centre by the city hall and its massive towers. Building work started on the city hall in 1931 with designs by Arnstein Arneberg and Magnus Poulsson. Work was interrupted by the War so the building was inaugurated in 1950. The design strikes me as belonging very much to it’s pre War period with still a strong sense of political power but what is clear is the quality of the work and the style and quality of the bold sculpture that decorates the building.

The imposing remains of Akershus Castle still dominate the east side of the harbour although the harbour is actually much busier than I remembered it ... some of the cruise ships that now dock here seem as high as the castle itself and certainly more solid in bulk.

 I recognised the Cathedral but had forgotten how beautiful it is with the square and its flower market in the front. One of the striking features of the city now is the high quality of much of the street scape with sculptures and fountains and areas of high-quality cobbles.

I remembered the respectable blocks of middle class apartments to the west of the royal palace. Last time I was here I had not ventured up into the working-class area to the north east of the centre but I explored that part of the city a bit this time looking for the Design and Architecture Museum.

I found some of the timber buildings that survive from the old city and looked with new interest at the substantial buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century with their dramatic solidness and heaviness and powerful sculptural elements that sets the architecture apart from that of the neighbouring countries. Clearly my tastes and interests have changed as I found these buildings much more attractive and interesting this time round.

But much has changed. There is much in the city that is very new. The Opera House designed by Tarald Lundevall was completed in 2008 and really does seem to rise out of the east harbour or Bjervika like a huge glacier.

The west side of the main harbour (Pipervika) has seen the most recent change with the ship yards in the area called Aker Brygge redeveloped with new buildings for the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, designed by Renzo Piano and opened in 2012. This area is now known as Tjuvholmen. Surrounded by new hotels, walkways, cafes and shops and huge apartment buildings with workmen still swarming over them, the area is incredibly lively and enthusiastically used including an area of beach and shallow water for children to swim in against the backdrop of the sculpture park but I felt slight misgivings that the buildings seemed too high for the scale of the rest of the city with a huge range of facing materials that must be very deliberate and in a variety of styles that are presumably called International Modern. None of this seemed to be Norwegian in style or character. 

Having said that, it is perhaps ironic that just before I arrived the Norwegian Parliament approved the start of work on a New National Museum in this area on the site of the old west station. When completed all the National Museums in Oslo, including the National Gallery, the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design and the Museum of Contemporary Art will move here. Only the National Museum of Architecture will stay in its present building.